Blog Post

What is "Computer Literacy"?

Two Kids Playing with an iPhoneResearch PennState just posted an article posing the question, "What does computer literacy mean these days?". The article discusses Stuart Silber's research into this broad and overused term, stating that "Simply understanding how computers work in functional terms will not lead to the type of informed practice educators are interested in and democracies need."

It's good to see that this question is getting asked in multiple places. Our project's goal is to foster a community of smart computing, a computer literacy that will exceed the next gen of touch UI users, but instead a culture that encourages kids to potentially create those interfaces, or at the very least, understand the basic architecture of them.

Myself (Chris), being a owner and user of an iPhone, as well as a father of two kids, I have already seen my daughter (4 yrs old) desire to learn and play on the device. Yet, I am taking a cue from Walter Bender's TEDxKids@Brussels Talk, when he challenges the culture of "There's [already] an app for that." I've already seen so many limitations imposed on myself and my daughter on this type of app consumption without the idea of considering how to develop one's own "app for that." I think it is important to step back from our devices and consider how we can take on the pluralistic roles that Bender, Silber, ourselves (Kevin and I), and others have been asking users to consider for awhile. It's important to be, as Silber says, "acknowledged as users of technology, questioners of technology, and producers of technology."

I think Silber is spot on, noting that "computers are social all the way down, from their designs to the ways they structure work and activity." Our curiosity of the software should be coupled with the tinkering and eventual development of programs, games, apps, etc. that we find ourselves engaged in all too often. The benefits of this culture are too good to not pursue, because the drawbacks can be revealing. Silber makes a good point about how computers/software can "de-skill" workers. Computers are and never will be the savior of any educational or economical reform, the producers are the people necessary to be successful in the end.

Computers don't write good programs, people do. And Don Knuth was good to emphasize that programmers aren't writing code for the computer, but for the people developing it and the users using it. It's time to start building the infrastructure for a refined definition of computer literacy toward a smart computing culture.


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